U.S. President Barack Obama touted a recent reduction in the backlog of military veterans’ disability claims in a speech at a gathering of disabled vets in Florida Saturday before beginning his weeklong vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. The president also pledged to help cut unemployment among veterans and improve mental-health research for them.
Speaking to an estimated 3,400 at the Disabled American Veterans, or DAV, annual convention in Orlando, Obama addressed a number of their concerns. Chief among them is the backlog of veterans’ disability claims. The number of such backlogged cases has been cut by about 18.8 percent in recent months, to 496,000 at present from 611,000 at the end of March, according to figures reported by the Associated Press.
While citing improvements in cutting the backlog, Obama acknowledged there is still much to be done. “We are not where we need to be, but we are making progress,” the president said. “We are not going to let up until we eliminate the backlog once and for all. ... After years of military service, you shouldn’t have to wait for years for what you’ve earned.” And, he added, “I’m going to be honest with you: It has not moved as fast as I wanted.”
This effort may be speeded somewhat by a new partnership and pilot program announced Friday by the American Bar Association, Legal Services Corp. and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA. The new program is aimed at further reducing the claims backlog while making it easier for unrepresented veterans to receive assistance developing their claims for disability pay.
During the president’s speech, he also hit back at critics of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, saying that veterans would not be negatively affected by the controversial law. “Don’t let them fool you: No one’s taking away your benefits,” Obama said. “If you already have health insurance or health care from the VA, you do not have to do a thing.”
According to Bloomberg News, Obama also said, “The best way to protect the VA care you have earned is to get rid of this sequester altogether,” a reference to federal budget cuts that began in March.
At the DAV event, Obama presented a national plan to put $107 million toward research into post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, citing a need to end the “epidemic of suicide” among returning veterans, as noted by the VA Saturday. “I’m not gonna be satisfied until every veteran, every man and woman in uniform, gets the help and support they need to stay strong,” the president said.
In his speech, Obama also pledged to help cut the rate of unemployment among veterans. “We’re going to keep encouraging companies to do the smartest thing: Hire some of the best workers you can find,” he said, according to The Hill. “We are going to get companies to understand you can’t get a better deal than hiring a veteran.”
“The road to recovery is often such a long haul, and America needs to be there for you during that long haul,” Obama said.